Beware of Charitable Scams During Haiti Relief Effort

Many Texans make generous donations to charitable organizations when disaster strikes. Before reaching for their wallets to provide much-needed financial support for recovery efforts in Haiti, Texans should ask questions and check the facts. By doing a little research, well-meaning Texans can ensure their dollars actually help the recovery effort – and don’t end up in the hands of a scam artist seeking to capitalize on a tragedy.

Texans who are solicited by telephone or e-mail and asked to make a charitable donation toward relief efforts in Haiti should keep the following in mind:

• Know the soliciting organization. Ask for credentials, including the exact name and telephone number of the organization, particularly if the charity is unfamiliar.
• Call the charity directly and confirm that the solicitor is actually associated with it.
• Be on the watch for questionable charities using names that closely resemble those of well-known charities.
• Find out how the donation will be used.
• Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion and short on descriptions about how charitable contributions will aid the recovery effort.
• Don’t succumb to high-pressure tactics and demands for an immediate decision. A legitimate charity welcomes background checks on their operations.
• Never give a credit card or bank account number to a solicitor.
• Never give cash and never agree to give money to a courier. Write a check in the name of the charity, not the soliciting individual, and get a receipt.

For information about specific relief operations now underway, Texans should contact the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). AIP is a national charity watchdog service that assists donors with identifying reliable charitable organizations. Texans should visit their Web site at www.charitywatch.org.

Texans who wish to file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General regarding suspicious e-mail charity solicitations may call the Consumer Complaint Hotline at (800) 252-8011 or file a complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

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Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

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ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.

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